Category Archives: Advocacy

Another Sign of Libraries under Threat: Chuck Tingle & the Texas Library Association

It is a widely-shared belief that Public Libraries are one of the greatest things that society has come up with. For well over a century they have grown and evolved as places that are safe for all segments of society to use and see themselves reflected in the collections and made to feel welcome.

I am a believer in the potential of Public Libraries and a lifer in the service (30 years as student volunteer and library professional this year). However I do not believe that they are an eternally safe and secure space. Over the decades I have seen libraries under threat from those who should be supporting and defending them. I have seen branches crumble and fall, shedding staff like trees dropping leaves in the fall.

A more insidious threat often comes from above and within, the latest sign of this danger popped up in my social media feed last night, with Chuck Tingle announcing that his invitation to speak at the Texas Library Association had been rescinded.

Chuck wrote a post about it on his Patreon that you can read here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/texas-library-to-96183885

As I have been writing this. the TLA have released a (to my mind very unimpressive) statement:

As much as many Public Library workers attempt to live up to the publicly stated ethos and values of the profession, Libraries have always been controlled by local government, through the boards that oversee the rules and regulations that govern how libraries are managed and run, and, if right wing individuals gain control of these boards they can negatively affect the services that libraries offer.

You can read previous articles I have written about this subject here:

It can’t be up to Library Workers alone to make sure that Libraries live up to their potential of being safe and open to all.

A Reading for the Edward Said Libraries with Mosab Abu Toha & Friends

Although not required, you may book a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-reading-for-the-edward-said-libraries-with-mosab-abu-toha-friends-tickets-780355854367

Gaza’s libraries have been destroyed over the course of the last several months of bombing. The Edward Said Public Libraries, the first English-language libraries in the region, have been at risk for months and require support for their continued existence.

During this virtual event, free to attend and streaming on YouTube, preeminent writers will offer short readings in a show of solidarity with the literary and reading communities of Palestine, and a confirmation of the vital nature of literature and access to written culture.

Libraries & Lemonade

This summer, For The People invites you to join us in defending public libraries by talking with your neighbors. Hand out free lemonade to your community, and spread the word about what makes public libraries so great.

Participating in LIBRARIES & LEMONADE is easy: pick a day, time, and location for a lemonade stand, download and print out copies of the toolkit, and have conversations with your neighbors about public libraries over a cool refreshing cup of lemonade.

Find out more here: https://www.librariesforthepeople.org/lemonade

Period Party

On April 8th, the Lucille H. Bluford branch of the Kansas City Public Library recently held a Period Party – a program designed for teens and tweens to come and learn about menstruation in a safe space, make crafts, and win prizes.

The craft was making pouches out of colorful duct tape to carrying menstrual products!

The Instructables website has a page on how to make duct tape pouches: https://www.instructables.com/Duct-Tape-Pouch/

You can visit the Kansas city Public Library’s Facebook page to see the reaction this program had:

The Canary in the Coalmine

Back before modern technology rendered such practices obsolete, miners used to take canaries down into coal mines with them. The reason they took them down was not so the miners could enjoy the singing of the birds while they worked, there was a darker reason…

Being considerably smaller and lighter than the average miner meant that the canary would be affected faster by the toxic gasses that built up in mine shafts. When the canary stopped singing and fell off its perch in the cage this would usually give miners enough warning to get out before they too, were overcome.

Libraries both Public & School are the canaries in the coalmine of society. Whenever the poisonous ideas of fascist thought bubble up, it is in libraries and schools that we see the early warning signs of what is to come. One of these signs is an uptick in challenges to books by and about people in certain communities usually (but not limited to) People of Color, LGBTQ+ and other minority groups.

Challenges to books in school & public libraries are nothing new, these have been going on for decades. The American Library Association runs annual lists of the most challenged books in US Libraries.

What is happening now goes beyond such standard challenges. I believe that Texas currently leads the nation in the sheer industrial scale of attempted and actual book bans. Matt Krause a Texas lawmaker compiled a list of over 800 books that he feels could make (white) readers feel uncomfortable. The majority of these books focus on sexuality, racism and US history.

To date the largest splash has been made by the banning of the teaching of the Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel Maus, created by Art Spiegelman the son of two Holocaust survivors, it details the experiences of his parents before and during WW2. According to the McMinn County School Board, who voted 7-0 to deny teachers the opportunity of teaching the book due to a single panel of nudity and some bad language that (allegedly) made them feel uncomfortable. This has made the 40-year-old graphic novel a cause célèbre in the current discourse around book banning and also the number one selling item on Amazon. While many commentators have celebrated the Streisand Effect that has made this book more well-known than ever before, the fact that students are being denied the opportunity to critically engage with the text while studying the Holocaust is nothing to be happy about.

Other books that have had banning attempts made against them across the US include Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer, This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez – all for celebrating LGBTQ+ & queer themes, making them in the eyes of the adults that wish to control what young people read, unsuitable in some way for a teen audience.

It is not just books about the Holocaust or explorations of young people’s sexuality that are targeted; Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi & Jason Reynolds, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and New Kid by Jerry Craft and other similar texts have all faced accusations of containing critical race theory, being anti-police or just books that upset white readers.

The right-wing coopting of school boards has allowed many boards to blatantly ignore or rewrite policies and procedures that were established to deal with challenges, and instead just pull books from their shelves; in some cases, this has been done to prevent complaints and accusations of criminality or worse. Often the censorship is preemptive, with school library workers just not purchasing materials they know will garner complaints, this is not a criticism, I know from first-hand experience how terrifying accusations of carrying pornography or being a criminal just for having certain books on your library shelves can be; but the effect is just as insidious – it is also harder to identify or push back against, or to even identify such practices when they occur.

It is not only school boards that are at risk of right-wing takeover, more recently it is being recognized that Library Boards are becoming enticing targets of conservative ideologues. The recent take-over of the Niles-Maine District Library Is a damning example of how destructive the influence of a board hostile the very nature of a public library can be!

In Mississippi, the mayor of Ridgeland, Gene McGee is withholding $110,000 of funding from the Madison County Library System, demanded that the system initiate a purge of LGBTQ+ books before his office releases the money. The mayor is alleged to have said that the library can serve whoever they wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above. Which, if accurate seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding on his part of what the role of civil servants in society actually entails.

On a related note, the Furry subculture, having heard about Mayor McGee’s homophobia, has stepped up and has spent the past week rallying around the Madison County Library successfully helping raise funds for the Library .

Library workers in the Campbell County Public Library of Wyoming have faced legal charges for having books on sexuality, gender identity and LGBTQ+ issues in their teen section although the sheriff’s office declined to investigate them and the Library Board backed the Library and did not direct them to remove the items facing the challenge.

There are thousands of these reactionary fires burning across the US and it is easy to become dispirited as the task of pushing back against and extinguishing them may seem too vast to accomplish.

An effective way to fight against this is to research your local school and library boards to discover where they stand, if their actions align with your views then stand behind and support them when it comes time for local elections. If however they have started down the slippery slope of blatant and unconstitutional bans you can organize friends, family and neighbors and stand for school & library boards and local elections or find someone who is already running and support them! If you are unable to stand for local elections then where possible attend board meetings and make your support for uncensored access to reading materials known to the boards and where possible encourage others to do the same.

If you believe in the public library service and schools then it is important to make your voice heard, because if you don’t – who will?

Coda: I had finished working on this when I saw the news that Greg Locke a Pastor in Tennessee had held a book burning just outside Nashville. Included in the burning event were copies of Harry Potter and Twilight books. It brought to mind the words of the German poet Heinrich Heine: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

Related links:

How to Fight Book Bans and Censorship: https://bookriot.com/how-to-fight-book-bans-and-challenges/

How to Support Libraries in times of Increased Censorship: https://bookriot.com/support-libraries-against-censorship/

What’s It Like to Be the Target of A Book Banning Effort? School Librarian Martha Hickson Tells Her Story. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=from-the-breaking-point-to-fighting-anew-school-librarian-martha-hickson-shares-her-story-of-battling-book-banning-censorship

Banned: Books on race and sexuality are disappearing from Texas schools in record numbers https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/texas-books-race-sexuality-schools-rcna13886

‘We’re Preparing For a Long Battle.’ Librarians Grapple With Conservatives’ Latest Efforts to Ban Books https://time.com/6117685/book-bans-school-libraries/

Save Niles Library https://www.nilescoalition.org/savenileslibrary/

Schools are banning my book. But queer kids need queer stories. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/29/schools-are-banning-my-book-queer-kids-need-queer-stories/

LGBTQ Books Are Being Banned. Their Authors Are Fighting Back. https://www.thedailybeast.com/lgbtq-books-are-being-banned-their-authors-are-fighting-back

Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/book-bans-schools-are-catching-fire-black-authors-say-uproar-isnt-stud-rcna10228

NCAC Coalition Statement on the Attack on Books in Schools https://ncac.org/news/attack-on-books

The push to ban books in Texas schools spreads to public libraries https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/education/texas-schools-public-libraries/285-fdacc918-48a2-4c94-8ef7-8ae5f8d344b1

Kansas district orders 29 books removed from circulation https://www.kshb.com/news/local-news/kansas-district-orders-29-books-removed-from-circulation

How a Small School District Became a Focal Point in the Battle Over Texas Book Censorship https://www.snopes.com/news/2022/02/01/texas-school-district-book-bans/ GOP Legislators Target Librarians for Prosecution, Fines Under new Bill https://iowastartingline.com/2022/02/04/gop-legislators-target-librarians-for-prosecution-fines-under-new-bill/

Library Books for Palestine

“مطلوب” or “Wanted” is an initiative of the Librarians and Archivists with Palestine (LAP), in partnership with the Tamer Institute.

When you donate the cost of a book and its shipping, they coordinate delivery of the book to the requesting library. Please note that book titles will be purchased as prioritized by the participating libraries.

Palestinian libraries, in addition to limited funding, face unique barriers to access caused by Israeli policies. With this campaign, we hope to raise awareness about these access issues and the context in which Palestinian libraries operate, while at the same time offering material support for the libraries’ collections.

You might notice that the cost of some books on this site is significantly higher than the list price for the title. This is because Palestinian libraries in the West Bank and Gaza cannot simply order a book and expect it to arrive quickly and reliably. Israel’s “enemy state” designation prevents literature from being sent directly to Palestinian libraries and booksellers if it has originated in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and sometimes other countries. This is a particular problem with Lebanon, a major hub of Arabic-language publishing. As a result, Palestinian libraries often contain more books originally written in English, Swedish, and other languages, than in Arabic.

To find out more information about this initiative or to purchase a book for a Palestinian Library please visit:

https://matloub.librarianswithpalestine.org/

Visit Librarians and Archivists with Palestine to find out about past projects they have run as well as current initiatives (like Matloub) that may be of interest.

A Family Guide to Black History Month

Yoopies UK the childcare platform that earlier this year put together a guide to the Black Lives Matter movement from a British perspective has just released a Family Guide to Black History Month.

Both guides can be downloaded here:

https://yoopies.co.uk/c/press-releases/blacklivesmatter

Teenagers at Risk

I had no idea what to call this post but eventually settled on what it is now, the first in what wil be an irregular series of posts.

I have been thinking about how dangerous it is to be a teenager today, well since teenagers have been teenagers – too old to be kids but also too young to be considered adults and often driven to dangerous and often foolhardy acts to prove themselves.

These thoughts were brought to the top of my mind by two stories involving teenagers that have been in the news lately. the first being the body-shaming of Billie Eilish:

Billie Eilish Shares Video On ‘Real Bodies’ After Body-Shaming Tweets

and

The ongoing saga of Claudia Conway the daughter of former counselor to Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway and George Conway, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, who has been thrust into the national spotlight as a real-life version of Katniss Everdean who will have a hand in bringing down the President using social media:

15-year-old Claudia Conway broke the news of her mother’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Here’s how the teenager took over social media, from bashing Trump in TikToks to trolling her parents on Twitter.

Body-shaming is nothing new, there have been books written and movies made featuring this trope and with the ubiquity of social media and instantaneous video & text communication this has become more pernicious than ever, leading to consequences varying from leaving school to suicide. Billie Eilish has spent most of her career wearing loose, baggy clothes to prevent people from commentating on her body and the moment a paparazzi pic of her goes online she faces a barrage of body-shaming from people (adults) who should know better.

The story of Claudia Conway veers into yet more dangerous territory, when adults place the burden of saving the nation (or the world) onto the shoulders of children, thanks in no small part to the large number of dystopian young adult novels that show adults abdicating their responsibilities and leaving their children to take up arms to bring down corporations and governments.

The two teens I mentioned are high-profile individuals, the first thanks to a relatively short (so far) but phenomenally successful career as musician and singer/song-writer and the second due to having a very public falling out with her parents who are near the epicenter of power in US politics.

What freaks me out is that this is becoming normalized, with people saying things like “They should have known the risks” or explaining away the attacks as being part and parcel of life in the public eye. It has not escaped my notice that these two examples are both young women, thanks to the inherent sexism of the world in which we live women usually bear the brunt of attacks. That is not to say that men are immune, teenage boys are facing increased risks of body shaming and internalized body dysmorphia.

What can we do to combat this? Watch what we say and challenge friends and colleagues who place the burden for saving the world onto the next generation, it is not up to them to fix our errors and problems, we have to start doing that if we have not already. It is up to us as adults and responsible human beings to prevent children from becoming child soldiers; while it may be exciting to read about teens taking up arms to defend a world that has failed them, these works often gloss over the toll fighting and killing can take on a person’s psyche and afterwards, the dangers living with PTSD can bring.

That is not to say that we need to stop stocking such books, but we must remember that fiction is just that – fiction, and while it is exciting, we must not use such materials as guides for the future, but rather warnings of what could happen if we let it.

Open Letter of Support & Solidarity with Trans & Non-Binary People from Library Workers

We the undersigned Library workers want to add our voices to those from the UK & Irish publishing community [https://www.thesecondshelf.com/digest/a-message-from-members-of-the-uk-and-irish-publishing-community] and the US publishing community in standing in solidarity with our Trans & Non-Binary colleagues, patrons and fellow humans, and reaffirm our unconditional support of Trans and Non-Binary people and their rights.

We believe that:

Trans & Non-binary rights are human rights

Trans Women are Women

Trans Men are Men

Non Binary Lives are valid

We see you, we hear you and we believe you!

Signed:

  • Matt Imrie Librarian & Editor: Teen Librarian
  • Caroline Fielding School Librarian & UK Editor: Teen Librarian
  • Lesley Martin
  • Zoey Dixon
  • Colette Townend, Librarian
  • Lucinda Murray, Children’s Librarian
  • Cheryl Walton (South Australia)
  • Anjali Pathiyath, High School Librarian, London
  • Jérémie Fernandes , Academic Librarian (Scotland)
  • Deborah Varenna
  • Josh Neff, Information Specialist, Kansas, USA
  • Dan Katz, School Librarian
  • Emerson Milford Dickson, School Librarian
  • Binni Brynolf, Systems Librarian
  • Cathy Harle, Academic Library Assistant, Cardiff
  • Dawn Finch, Author & Librarian
  • Emily Wheeler, Academic Librarian
  • Maura Farrelly, School Librarian
  • Hayley Lockerbie, Librarian
  • Barbara Band, Independent library consultant and advisor
  • Claire Warren, School Librarian
  • Robert Sell, Academic Library IT Officer, Cardiff
  • Ash Green
  • Jenny Foster
  • Ian Clark
  • David Hughes, Librarian
  • Mobeena Khan
  • Alex Mees, school librarian, London
  • Bethan Ruddock
  • Samantha Lockett, SLS Librarian
  • Rachel Playforth, NHS Librarian
  • Jamie R. Librarian, UK
  • Lauren Smith
  • Stuart Lawson, Academic Librarian
  • Michael-Israel Jarvis, School Library Assistant
  • John Trevor-Allen, Librarian
  • Jennifer Dion, Teen Librarian, Pointe-Claire, Canada
  • Emma Sweeney, Library Worker
  • Hannah Beckitt, NHS Librarian

Please add your name in the comments below & your name will be added to the main body of this post

One of the signatories has made a significant point that I agree with fully and feel compelled to add to this post:

our support has to go beyond the signing of an open letter. We need to work in all areas of library services to ensure trans and non-binary people do not face discrimination and are supported by their libraries.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being a Library Worker

Things that are said (& celebrated) about Libraries, Librarians and Library Workers: 

  • Librarians are freedom fighters,  
  • Librarians are revolutionary,  
  • Librarians are rebels, 

Things that are not usually said or celebrated about libraries (but are still true): 

  • Libraries and Library Workers are (or have been) complicit in: 
    • In book banning 
    • In book burning 
    • In segregation 
    • In upholding white supremacy 

Many, mostly white (it has to be said) library folk have drunk the library kool-aid and believe uncritically everything (positive & affirming) that has been said about libraries. Heck for years I was one of them, I uncritically celebrated libraries without considering the history of library services in the countries I have lived and worked in until I took a look at myself, where I came from (South Africa) and what I stand for; then started poking around in the history of my career in my home country and further afield. 

Nowadays I am still a library-stan, I have seen and can see how libraries can affect the lives of those who use them in a positive way.  Of course people have to be able to  access the services that libraries provide to have their lives changed by them. I still fully support all that is good in public libraries but I also acknowledge the darker side that has largely been airbrushed out of the public library narrative. What follows are but a few examples of what overwhelming whiteness in libraries has been responsible for. 

In South Africa, Public Libraries were segregated under the apartheid regime and non-white South Africans were denied library services altogether or had a substandard service. 

Read Library philosophy vs. Apartheid legislation: Cape Town City Libraries: 1952-1972 by Kathleen Laishley 

Not content with segregation, the apartheid regime doubled down with book banning as well as burning books that they disagreed with. Librarians were complicit in this. 

Librarians at institutions across South Africa were tasked with removing banned books and the works of banned people from the shelves, and monitoring their usage. They received a weekly update in the Government Gazette and were expected to enforce the banning of books with immediate effect.

In the end, book burning was about power – the abuse of  power by the agents of  censorship, and the reluctance to confront power by those who aided and abetted censorship 

There has been segregation in many US libraries over the years, When Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of a new public library in Atlanta in 1902, scholar and activist W. E. B. DuBois, then a professor at Atlanta University and a strong proponent of African American education, spoke out publicly against the injustice of a public facility that refused service to a full third of Atlanta’s population. (https://dp.la/exhibitions/history-us-public-libraries/segregated-libraries

 In 2016 when accepting a National Book Award Representative Elijah Cummings recounted  how he was denied a library card in Alabama in 1956: 

“Some of you know I grew up in rural Alabama, very poor, very few books in our home, I remember in 1956, when I was 16 years old, going to the public library to get library cards, and we were told the library was for whites only and not for coloureds. And to come here and receive this honor, it’s too much.” 

The Dewey Decimal Classification System still carries many of the biases of it’s creator Melvil Dewey. It took until 2019 for his name to be removed from the ALA’s top honor. In the 1930s librarian Dorothy Porter started to decolonize the DDC by unpicking the racist way in which he treated Black authors. 

This brilliant article on BookRiot shows how libraries have and in some cases still are complicit in upholding white supremacy (and how it can be dismantled).  

Homophobia was also prevalent in early editions of the DDC and although it is being weeded out, many traces still remain. The religion section still skews heavily in favor of Christianity, with non-Christian faiths only making an appearance in the 290s. 

In 2017 a lack of diversity in the library profession lead to accusations of bias and worse being made against the CILIP Carnegie Medal, the oldest book award for books for children & young people in the UK. This controversy has lead to institutional changes in the way that the awards are run and has also lead to the formation of groups to help work towards increasing the diversity of the profession in the UK, so never let it be said that protests change nothing.

Today libraries are still largely staffed by white folk, most of them women many of who fall under the middle-class label, for a career that is majority female, it is weird that male library staff are very over-represented in library management positions – patriarchy it is not a bug, it is a feature (if you are a man that is). 

As the profession slowly (oh so slowly) diversifies, existing staff come face to face with our biases, both conscious and unconscious.  This is uncomfortable, for those of us who feel we are anti-racist, anti-imperialist and can lead to hurt feelings and lashing out when we are confronted with our failures in being good allies, and for our colleagues of colour who experience almost daily microaggressions from their colleagues and upon whom many white library workers place their needs for education on being better at becoming antiracist and working in a diverse workplace. 

It behooves all of us working in public libraries no matte where we are in the world to educate ourselves on how to be better allies in life and in libraries to our colleagues of colour, our LGBTQ+ colleagues an dour patrons. Libraries are no place for the false white saviour narrative, we are not rockstars (I hate that term – but that is a rant for another day), we must all work towards being open, inclusive in our lives as in our careers and make our profession a place that mirrors the world as it is and as it should be – diverse and vibrant, not a monochrome example of how things used to be. 

Further Reading & Resources